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  • Writer's pictureDeJuan Wright

6 Must-Read Marketing Books That Every Startup Founder Should Own

Updated: Mar 24

From here on out, no matter what anyone says, you’ve either already done so—or you’re in the process of doing something that is so scary, so bold, and so courageous—only 10% of the population in the United States has ever even attempted to do it.

Regardless of the outcome, moving forward—the fact that you’ve taken the leap of faith to become a founder of a business is an act of valor that should be applauded. And also one that you should always take great pride in. 

Now, it’s possible, although highly unlikely—that as a founder, you already have everything all figured out. I mean, the founders on ABC’s Shark Tank make it look so simple, don’t they? Find a great idea. Bootstrap or raise enough capital to create a business behind the idea. Then, entice an audience to purchase your products or services. 

Pretty simple, right? 

However, if you’ve already founded a startup, you’re fully aware of the fact that simplicity most definitely doesn’t equate easy; especially the part about enticing an audience to purchase your products or services—which is the role of marketing. 

And while people often conflate becoming a founder with becoming a glorified salesperson, CEO, and CFO all rolled into one; what often gets unnoticed is the importance of founders having an understanding of the core functions of marketing. 

Notwithstanding the fact that you’ll likely have others handling your startup’s marketing duties—much like a great CEO—great startup founders become great by understanding every aspect of their business.

After reading these six books, you’ll definitely have a much better understanding of the enormous role that marketing will play in helping your startup succeed.

1. This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See - by Seth Godin 

Make no mistake, while introduction to marketing college courses could teach you the disciplines within the practice of marketing—I must admit that back when I was a college student, had my intro to marketing professor handed me a copy of this book and instructed me to study it over the semester—I certainly would have learned more about the true purpose of marketing than I did from the marketing textbooks the class was assigned. 

In This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See, author and marketing guru Seth Godin underlines the important role that marketing is ultimately meant to play in the lives of consumers and how brands should seek to improve the lives of their audience—not just their own interests. 

The book also offers insights on how brands should seek to find a target audience. Ways to attract that audience. And how to develop a tribe of beloved fans. 

2. R.E.D. Marketing: The Three Ingredients of Leading Brands - by Greg Creed and Ken Muench 

Before we go any further, I have a confession to make. If this list was totally based purely off of my personal all-time favorite marketing books, it would easily be no. 1. Authored by former Yum! Brands CEO Greg Creed and Yum! Brands CMO Ken Muench, R.E.D. Marketing: The Three Ingredients of Leading Brands, is the optimum marketing book for founders and marketers looking to learn more about three of the most important elements of marketing. 

Those elements are:

  • Relevance (cultural relevance, functional relevance, and social relevance.

  • Ease (easy to notice and easy to access).

  • And distinctiveness.

Creed and Muench write that if you combine and utilize all of the elements of R.E.D., “You’ve implemented 95% of what a marketer needs to do in today’s world. As long as your brand is distinctive, relevant, and easy to notice—you’ll be fine.” 

After reading this book, you’ll likely feel the same as well. 

3. Startup Guide to Guerrilla Marketing: A Simple Battle Plan for First-Time Marketers - by Jay Conrad and Jeannie Levinson 

Of the countless marketing books that I’ve read (I stopped counting after fifty), the first book that really resonated with me was Jay Conrad and Jeannie Levinson’s Startup Guide to Guerrilla Marketing: A Simple Battle Plan for First-Time Marketers.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term guerrilla marketing, the Levinson’s define it as, “Going after conventional goals using unconventional means. It means that in marketing, your main investment should be time, energy, imagination, and information—not money.”

Shark Tank cast member and renowned entrepreneur Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary once said that, “Business is war, I want to kill the competitors. I want to make their lives miserable. I want to steal their market share.” 

If business actually is war the way that O’Leary describes it, this book will absolutely give you a battle plan to kill the competition—from a marketing perspective, of course. 

4. The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding - by Al and Laura Ries

Simply saying that The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding is one of the greatest marketing books ever created would be a huge understatement. Without sounding too hyperbolic, if there was a constitution of branding—this book would be it. 

In The 22 Laws of Branding, branding experts the late Al Ries and his daughter Laura outline 22 branding laws (which are actually principles but being the great marketers they are, the father and daughter duo named them laws for shock value) that brands should abide by in order to help consumers differentiate, cultivate, and sustain a favorable perception of their respective brand. 

5. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion - by Robert Cialdini, PH.D 

As I often say, when you really think about it, marketing is all about creating concepts to connect with consumers. And one of the most important components required to effectively create concepts that will connect with consumers is to understand what persuades them to take desired actions like:

  • Paying attention to your ads. 

  • Subscribing to receive your services or newsletter.

  • Purchasing your products. 

Nevertheless, having the ability to persuade other human beings isn’t quite the easiest thing in the world to do. Those who succeed in doing so, must understand one thing above all—people. 

And in order to understand people, you must have an understanding of psychology. 

For some, Dr. Robert Cialdini’s, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, could be considered more of a psychology book than a marketing book. But as the thousands of marketing professionals who have read the book could attest—it’s basically a manual for marketing professionals and others seeking to influence others by utilizing psychological tactics.

Which is something that your startup obviously aims to do.

6. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind - by Al Ries and Jack Trout

If you’re a big fan of team sports like myself, you may have realized that all team sports have one thing in common—positions. Indeed, regardless of the sport, in every game or match—each player on the team has a particular position to play. 

Much like team sports, when it comes to the mind’s of consumers, businesses also have a position to play.  

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, focuses on how you could position a product, a service, a company, or even a person (like yourself) in the minds of consumers. As authors and marketing pioneers the late Al Ries and Jack Trout articulate in their book, “Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.”

Whenever startup founders like yourself make the bold leap of creating a business—it is easy to focus most of your attention on providing the best product or service possible for your customers—while unfortunately, overlooking how to convey all of the great ways that your brand, products, or services could benefit their lives in a way that will connect with them. 

This book not only emphasizes the fact that perception is reality in the minds of consumers—it also helps teach you ways to shape perception in the mind’s of those that you seek to serve.


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